Embracing the Melodrama Part III #4: The Grasshopper (dir by Jerry Paris)


“It’s very simple what I want to be: totally happy; totally different; and totally in love.”

— Christine Adams (Jacqueline Bisset) in The Grasshopper (1970)

Seriously, is Christine asking for too much?

Total happiness?  That may sound like a lot but trust me, it can be done.

Totally different?  That’s a little bit more challenging because, to be honest, you’re either different or you’re not.  If you have to make the effort to be different, then you definitely are not.

Totally in love?  Well, it depends on how you define love…

At the start of The Grasshopper, Christine thinks that she’s heading to America to find love.  While an oh-so late 60s/early 70s theme song plays in the background, Christine leaves her small hometown in Canada and she heads down to California.  She’s planning on meeting up with her boyfriend Eddie (Tim O’Kelly) and taking a job as a bank teller.

Of course, it soon turns out that working in a bank isn’t as exciting as Christine originally assumed.  Eddie expects Christine to just be a conventional girlfriend and that’s not what Christine is looking for. As well, it’s possible that Christine may have seen Targets, in which O’Kelly played an all-American boy who picks up a rifle and goes on a killing spree.

And so, Christine abandons Eddie and heads to Las Vegas.  Since this movie was made in 1970 and Uber didn’t exist back then, Christine’s preferred method of traveling is hitchhiking.  This gives her a chance to meet the usual collection of late 60s weirdos who always populate movies like this.  One driver crosses herself when Christine says that she plans to have a baby before getting married.  Another is a hacky Las Vegas comic.

In Vegas, Christine applies for a job as a showgirl.  As she explains to sleazy casino owner Jack Benton (Ed Flanders), she “once did Little Women in school.”

“Did you do it nude?” Jack replies.

Yep, that’s Vegas for you!  It’s the city of Showgirls, Casino, and Saved By The Bell: Wedding in Vegas, after all!

Anyway, thing do get better once Christine meets and falls in love with Tommy Marcott (Jim Brown), a former football player who is now working as a door greeter in Jack’s casino.  Everyone tells Christine not to get involved with Tommy.  One of Jack’s men, a menacing hitman who looks just like Johnny from Night of the Living Death (he even wears glasses), warns Christine to watch herself.

Through a long series of events, Christine ends up on her own again.  The usual collection of 70s events occur: murder, drugs, prostitution, and ultimately a stint as the mistress of a rich man played by Joseph Cotten.  The important thing is that it all eventually leads to Christine and a skywriter getting stoned, stealing a plane, and deciding to write a message in the sky.

That’s when this happens:

Yes, it’s all very 1970!

Anyway, The Grasshopper is one of those films that tries to have it both ways.  Establishment audiences could watch it and think, “Wow, those kids are really messed up.”  Counterculture audiences could watch it and say, “Old people are such hypocrites.”  Oddly enough, The Grasshopper was written by future director Garry Marshall and it’s an incredibly overwrought film.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in the entire film and the film’s direction is flashy but empty.  However, for those of us who love history, it’s as close to 1970 as we’re going to get without hopping into a time machine.

A Movie A Day #83: Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs (1986, directed by Burr Smidt)


Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs is a typical anti-drug video from the 1980s.  The story is familiar after school special material.  Kim (Megan Follows) and Rick (Rick Segall) are upper middle class kids who live in the suburbs.  Rick is a track star.  Kim is at the top of her class.  That all changes when they start hanging out with the local drug dealer (Dermot Mulroney), who gets Rick hooked on marijuana and Kim hooked on cocaine.  Kim gets an F on her report card.  Rick can no longer jump the hurdles.  Eventually, their parents stop drinking and taking valium long enough to force them into rehab.  The message is that tough love is the only solution.

The only thing that makes Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs noteworthy is the strange and unexpected presence of Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson, playing themselves and commenting on the action.  The first scene in the video is Burt and Judd driving their pickup truck through the suburbs, talking about how nice it is.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt says.  “Are you going to buy me lunch?” Judd asks.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt replies.  “This town is the American Dream,” Judd says.  “Or the American nightmare,” Burt adds.  When Kim and Rick are getting high in Dermot Mulroney’s chartreuse microbus, Burt and Judd sit on a picket fence and shoot the crap.  Burt can’t understand why teens would use drugs and Judd reminds him that it has been a while since he was a teenager. Rumor has it that both Burt and Judd appeared in this video to fulfill court-ordered community service.

Everything works out in the end.  If you have any doubt, just look at Burt giving us a thumbs up before the final credits roll.

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!

For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family.  Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday.  Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter.  I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast.  That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself.  Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media.  It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.

After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film.  The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series.  In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday.  It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.

After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned.  (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.)  The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting.  They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy.  Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.

But you know what?  I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it.  The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered.  The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger.  With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over.  In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers.  Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.

As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become.  Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success.  Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films.  However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4.  Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5.  At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.

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As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter?  At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes.  We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes).  We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…”  (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4.  Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.)  We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark.  We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.

We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot.  We watch it for the communal experience.  Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4.  The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot.  Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films.  When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter.  When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian.  When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter.  Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch.  We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.

(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist.  The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining.  Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.  Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)

(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke.  Finn and his family are driving through North Texas.  Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas.  Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw.  When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them.  Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke.  But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)

At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films.  Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience.  In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican.  For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness.  Sharknado 4 brought this country together.

That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.

If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again.  Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.

And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!

Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!

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